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The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen…

The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (2010)

by Kwame Anthony Appiah

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195586,119 (3.77)34



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Showing 4 of 4
Appiah tells the stories of three once-pervasive but now abandoned customs - the duel in aristocratic England, foot-binding in China, and slavery - and one that is still alive - honor killings of women in Pakistan. He notes that the abandonment of these practices did not result from moral arguments alone, as they were always put forward long before. At the same time, it is not simply legislation that caused the revolutions. Collective action among families apparently was important in ending foot binding. The account the working class supporting the abolition of slavery because it degraded manual labor is very nice, but I wonder what historians think. At the end of the book I am not too much wiser on how they do happen, as the stories are quite different for the different cases, although it has to do with shifting codes of honor. ( )
  ohernaes | Oct 30, 2013 |
Tsundoku Reviews

Brief Summary: Throughout history honor has remained a strong incentive for human action, yet it is rarely ever researched how this honor has affected change in history. Exploring honor through moral revolutions, Appiah defines what honor really means to us as members of the human world.

The Tsundoku Scale: Middle of the Pile, 5 out of 10.

The Good: The philosophy was a strong, clear, and welcome segment in this book. It’s not on par with ‘if a tree falls and no one is around, does it make a sound?’ kind of thinking but it is still quite thought provoking. Appiah makes some truly interesting points about honor and esteem, individual and group honor, and dignity and morality, that stand out as both significant and relevant. He forces the reader to contemplate honor as an ever changing value that could at one moment in history be an advocate for something as abhorrent as slavery and then in the next moment become one of its strongest dissenters. Further, he successfully manages to separate honor from morality while still keeping honor as something personal and approachable. All the examples in the book, from dueling to slavery and from foot-binding to honor killing, are engaging and full of Appiah’s wry humor and serious declarations.

The Bad: Appiah’s problem is that his book tries to make history a part of honor, rather than honor a part of history. The book constantly loses its focus, perhaps most notably when Appiah describes the satirical honor killing in a movie about Sicily and then proceeds to jump to real life by talking about current honor killing in Pakistan. Both the movie and Pakistan were great examples of honor, but their relevancy to each other was forced and awkward. In much the same way, Appiah’s book often feels a disjointed group of examples spanning history in “moral revolutions” that are in no way connected to one another, and seem more a history of convenience than a history of fact.

Check out Tsundoku Reviews for more great reviews! ( )
1 vote Matt8000 | Oct 27, 2013 |
The Honor Code discusses dueling (of all things), foot binding, and slavery and how they ended. Then he takes on honor killing and gives some suggestions on what might end them. It's a very readable book about new concepts of honor and dignity, both were formerly used only in reference to the upper classes, and how a sense of morality is not enough to effect moral change.
Here is a favorite quote from the discussion of the campaign to end slavery in England:
Whether or not - and in what sense - they yet formed a single class, working people were often xenophobic and, like the British middle and upper classes, they could be frankly racist about black people. Many of them were nevertheless against slavery. They were against it, I think, for the simplest of reasons: nothing more firmly expressed the idea that labor was dishonorable than Negro plantation slavery in the New World. And labor was what defined "them." Slavery associated the natal alienation and dishonor of the slaves with the work they did in the plantations...Its unequivocal meaning was that manual labor was to be equated with suffering and dishonor.

I recommend this book for anyone wanting to know more about the concept of honor and justice, how they differ and how they can be combined. ( )
  Citizenjoyce | Apr 2, 2011 |
How do moral revolutions happen? Dueling, foot-binding, slavery and “honor” killings were once considered honorable practices but today most people find them repellent. In THE HONOR CODE Appiah analyzes these four examples to illustrate how traditional beliefs about honor came to be in sharp contrast with evolving views of morality. In each case, arguments against the practices were well known long before they were given up, but knowledge alone wasn't enough. “Honor” killing has not been completely eliminated, but for each of the other practices Appiah details how the development of an expanded, less insular world view or "honor world" changed cultural beliefs and overthrew these long held customs. With this book Appiah is hoping to help spark modern moral revolutions.

Appiah talks about what these modern revolutions might be in an excellent September 2010 article in the Washington Post. Just as we look back with horror at slavery and foot binding, people in the future may condemn one or more of our current practices. To determine what might cause our descendants to wonder “What were they thinking?!” Appiah provides three guidelines: first, arguments against the practice have long been in place, second, defenders of the practice cite tradition, human nature or necessity as reasons to continue (How could we grow cotton without slaves?), and third, supporters of the practice engage in strategic ignorance, for instance wearing slave-grown cotton without considering where it comes from. Appiah’s contemporary candidates for moral revolutions include industrial meat production, the current prison system, the institutionalization and isolation of the elderly, and the devastation of the environment.

Appiah is a philosophy professor at Princeton and his writing is sometimes a little choppy in a logician’s proof solving style, but the material is well thought out, timely and fascinating. ( )
2 vote Jaylia3 | Dec 19, 2010 |
Showing 4 of 4
Appiah is clearly right that it often takes the voice of other people to bring home to us what the moralities to which we pay lip-service actually demand of us. It is as if the social megaphone selects, amplifies, distorts and suppresses some of the things morality says. It can do this, as it did in his four examples before the reforms, in direct opposition to morality. Or it can turn the megaphone to the service of morality. The one thing it will never be is silent.
Appiah is one of the most relevant philosophers today. He writes about ethics in diverse modern societies, where it is often a challenge to find solid ground, let alone common ground. His work reveals the heart and sensitivity of a novelist — or perhaps a mystery writer, given that he’s written three whodunits — and he develops ideas the way a writer develops characters. He shows them in action, in relationships, in context and in flux. He helps us think holistically before turning analytic....A more accurate subtitle for “The Honor Code” might have been: “How Moral Revolutions Used to Happen, and What We Gained (and Lost) When We Replaced Peer Honor With Respect for All Persons.” That subtitle would have made it clear that Detective Appiah is really working on the hardest case of all: Who are we, morally speaking, and how did we get here?

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from amazon com
Rooting his analysis firmly in historical manifestations of honor, Appiah (Cosmopolitanism), a professor of philosophy at Princeton, offers four case studies in what he calls moral revolutions, attesting to how altering notions of honor can provoke positive changes in social behavior. Codes of honor surrounding dueling, Chinese foot binding, the Atlantic slave trade, and the ongoing practice of honor killing in contemporary Pakistan are all examined to reveal the various dimensions of honor as it relates to notions of respect, shame, and dignity. Appiah argues for a distinction between honor and morality that underpins how and why abhorrent practices so often continue despite their criminalization. While the author devotes too much space to basic historical narrative and not nearly enough to the complex issues of how honor relates to morality and how it can be distinguished from the constellation of notions like respect that he draws on, it is nonetheless a compelling read and represents a refreshingly concrete solution to the question of how to alter deeply objectionable, deeply intractable human practices.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393071626, Hardcover)

In this landmark work, a leading philosopher demonstrates the revolutionary power of honor in ending human suffering.

Long neglected as an engine of reform, honor strikingly emerges at the center of our modern world in Kwame Anthony Appiah's The Honor Code. Over the last few centuries, new democratic movements have led to the emancipation of women, slaves, and the oppressed. But what drove these modern changes, Appiah argues, was not imposing legislation from above, but harnessing the ancient power of honor from within. In gripping detail, he explores the end of the duel in aristocratic England, the tumultuous struggles over footbinding in nineteenth-century China, and the uprising of ordinary people against Atlantic slavery. Finally, he confronts the horrors of "honor killing" in contemporary Pakistan, where rape victims are murdered by their relatives. He argues that honor, used to justify the practice, can also be the most effective weapon against it. Intertwining philosophy and historical narrative, Appiah has created a remarkably dramatic work, which demonstrates that honor is the driving force in the struggle against man's inhumanity to man.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:36 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Intertwining philosophy and historical narrative, Appiah has created a remarkably dramatic work, which demonstrates that honor is the driving force in the struggle against man's inhumanity to man--and the foundation of democractic movements such as the emancipation of women, slaves, and the oppressed.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393071626, 039334052X

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